Thursday, July 4, 2019

A New Birth of Freedom

The battle of Gettysburg was a meeting of engagement, neither General Robert E. Lee, General George Meade nor President Lincoln expected this battle to happen when and where it did. The two armies just ran into each other at this little town in southern Pennsylvania. 

The engagement resembled a three-act play, growing as more and more actors converged on Gettysburg. General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had only been in his position for three days when the battle started. Before these three days ended, 165,000 soldiers descended on these few acres in the bloodiest battle of all of North America. More than 50,000 men fell as casualties in this brutal battle.

Like the unpredictability of a game of poker, the first day’s battle went the way of the South on July 1. If Lee could have withdrawn, he would have been declared the victor, but the next two days took the victory away. On July 3, 1863, General Lee put all his cards on the table when he sent 13,000 soldiers into the Union middle. The result was a crushing defeat and a massacre for the South. Lee retreated toward Virginia in the rain. Unfortunately, it took 10 days for General Meade to mount a pursuit against the Army of Virginia and by that time, Lee and his men had crossed the Potomac. Otherwise, the war might have come to an end much sooner than it did.

A few weeks after the battle, David Wills, a Gettysburg attorney, coordinated plans for a national cemetery. Up until this time, men had been buried where they fell. The date was set for November 19, 1863, Edward Everett would be the main speaker, and the President would be the secondary speaker at the dedication ceremony.

Edward Everett spoke for 2 hours and eight minutes while Lincoln’s address was a mere 272 words that were delivered in about two minutes. The speech stirred the nation and continues to speak to us today.
Lincoln started his speech with a look back at the founding of the nation with the words, “all men are created equal.” Was this proposition true, and did it really mean anything? Lincoln thought that it did. In 1776, the nation experienced a birth of freedom, and now 87 years later, it was experiencing a second birth of freedom. The first birth brought freedom from tyranny from abroad, and the second birth brought freedom for those still living under oppression at home.

Lincoln made a comparison with what “we say here and what they did here.” He pointed out that though this was a dedication ceremony, “we can not consecrate— we can not hallow— this ground.” The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” Lincoln finished the speech pointing out what the nation’s part was—“to make sure these brave men did not die in vain.” We must make sure we preserve this freedom—freedom that endures— “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Now 243 years later, we see what has been given us in our freedom. We must ask for God’s help to preserve these liberties. We need insight to not be beguiled by enemies within and courage to defend our freedom that came at such a high cost. We are hearing that socialism will bring us such prosperity. Can we not remember those failed political attempts? There have always been demagogues who have promised a paradise they could not deliver. But, in pursuing these utopias, those poor people lost their freedom. God help us to hang on to what we know to be dear and precious—our freedom!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

God’s Marvelous Plans

Psalm 137 is a description of the attitude of the Jewish exiles in Babylonian captivity. Listen to their discouragement: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps 131:1-4). God’s people in exile had lost their focus. They wanted to go home, and that is all they could think about. They had lost their joy.

A 2003 article in The New Yorker magazine describes a man jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. The man was about 30 years old and lived alone. A suicide note was found in his apartment: “I’m going to walk to the bridge; if a person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” It makes you wonder how many people we meet each day that just need a smile. They need some joy.

How many of you are living in the land of disappointment? You have been taken captive by forces that have brought you to a place out of your control. Have sadness and despair marked your life? Have you often wished for the joy of earlier years? Have you hung up your harp on the poplars? Have you lost your joy and your song? When allowed to share with a lost or hurting person, you have no joy to share. Your vessel is empty. Your life is even characterized by growing resentment. You spend your life longing and dreaming about something you don’t have.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to them to encourage them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:10-11). They didn’t like God’s plans because they were different from their own plans.

God wanted to prosper the Israelites while they are in the middle of their lonely trials, not by taking them out, but by teaching them how to live. This truth speaks to all of us who are in the middle of affliction. We may want to escape our circumstances in life. God, on the other hand, wants to encourage us with the plans he as for us right where we are.

Jeremiah wrote a letter to the captives, and it read like this: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:4-7). God had no plans to take them out of Babylon. He wanted them to change their attitude toward their situation.

God did make an incredible promise to these people, and I think it holds for us today too: He said to them that when you accept you’re here and now, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord” (Jer 29:12-13).

We are so sure that if we could change our situation, our circumstances, our friends, we could find happiness. If we could just get rid of the bad memories, the painful experiences, then we would be happy. God says that is a false dream! What will change everything is you finding me and I will let you find me when you seek me with all your heart. God must be the object of our life. Anything else will be fools’ gold.